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Arnold School of Public Health

Can periodontal antibodies predict Alzheimer’s disease? Anwar Merchant investigates with new NIH-funded project

January 20, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

Anwar Merchant, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, has been awarded $400K from the National Institute on Aging. He will use the two-year, R21 grant to examine the relationship between four groups of antibodies against periodontal microorganisms and Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of this project is to identify antibodies against periodontal microorganisms as biomarkers that can complement existing diagnostic tools to enhance early diagnosis and risk prediction of Alzheimer’s.

“Certain periodontal antibodies remain elevated in the blood for up to 15 years following exposure and precede the development of cognitive impairment by several years,” Merchant says. “These antibodies may therefore be useful novel biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Previous research has already demonstrated a link between oral health and Alzheimer’s disease. These studies have found links between Alzhimer’s disease and periodontal disease, tooth loss/poor oral hygiene and increased dementia risk, and periodontal treatment and reduced dementia risk. However, oral health measures are not currently used in diagnosis or risk prediction of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Merchant’s own research has shown that antibodies developed in reaction to 19 different periodontal microorganisms consistently predicted all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality. With this study, his team will extend this application to the predictive capabilities of periodontal antibodies on Alzheimer’s disease.

Specifically, they will focus on four groups of antibodies against 19 different periodontal microorganisms because emerging evidence indicates that periodontal microorganisms play a central role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found evidence of P. gingivalis in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in a variety of contexts/studies. The presence of P. gingivalis infection prior to Alzheimer’s disease suggests that oral infection may be one of the causal pathways to its development.

Identifying antibodies that predict Alzheimer’s disease mortality and are correlated with cognitive impairment will also shed light on whether periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease share risk factors or are causally connected. This study will examine the relationship between antibodies and Alzheimer’s disease over and above lifestyle, socio-demographic and genetic risk factors, such as healthy diet, physical activity, educational achievement, smoking, age, diabetes and social engagement. 

“The evidence linking poor oral health to increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease clearly continues to strengthen,” Merchant says. “The results from this study will not only help identify those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease but may also indicate that treating periodontal disease will provide a feasible strategy to reducing this risk.”


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